Matthew Chance: Many people around the world, even though you’re not the president of Russia anymore, see you as the main decision maker in this country and it was you who ordered Russian forces into Georgia. Is it true? Putin: Of course, that’s not the case. In accordance with the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the issues of foreign policy and defense are fully in the hands of the president of Russia. And the president of the Russian Federation was acting within his powers. As is known, yours truly was at that time at the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing. This alone made it impossible for me to take part in preparing that decision, although of course, President Medvedev was aware of my opinion on that issue. I’ll be frank with you, and actually there is no secret about it, we had of course considered all the possible scenarios of events, including direct aggression by the Georgian leadership. We had to think beforehand about how to provide for the security of our peace-keepers and of the citizens of the Russian Federation who are residents of South Ossetia. But, I repeat, such a decision could only be taken by the president of the Russian Federation, the commander in chief of the armed forces, Mr. Medvedev. It is his decision. Matthew Chance: But it’s been no secret either that for years you’ve been urging the West to take more seriously Russia’s concerns about international issues. For instance, about NATO’s expansion, about deployment of missile defense systems in eastern Europe, etc. Wasn’t this conflict a way of demonstrating that in this region, it’s Russia that’s the power, not NATO and certainly not the United States? Vladimir Putin: Of course not. What is more, we did not seek such conflicts and do not want them in the future. That this conflict has taken place – that it broke out nevertheless – is only due to the fact that no one had heeded our concerns. More generally, Matthew, I will say this: We must take a broader view of this conflict. I think both you and your – our – viewers today will be interested to learn a little more about the history of relations between the peoples and ethnic groups in this regions of the world. Because people know little or nothing about it. But I would like to recall that all these state entities, voluntarily integrated into the Russian Empire. And each in its own time. Back in the mid-18th century, in 1745-1747, Ossetia was the first to become part of the Russian Empire. At that time, it was a united entity; North and South Ossetia were one state. In 1801, if my memory serves me, Georgia itself, which was under some pressure from the Ottoman Empire, voluntarily became part of the Russian Empire. It was only 12 years later, in 1812, that Abkhazia became part of the Russian Empire. Until that time, it had remained an independent state, an independent principality. It was only in the mid-19th century that the decision was taken to incorporate South Ossetia into the Tiflis province. Within a common state, the matter was regarded as not very important. But I can assure you that subsequent years showed that the Ossetians did not much like it. However, de facto they were put by the tsar’s central government under the jurisdiction of what is now Georgia. When, after World War I, the Russian Empire broke up, Georgia declared its own state while Ossetia opted for staying within Russia; this happened right after the events of 1917. In 1918, as a result of this, Georgia conducted a rather brutal punitive operation there, and in 1921, it repeated it. When the Soviet Union was formed, these territories, by Stalin’s decision, were definitively given to Georgia. As you know, Stalin was ethnically Georgian. Therefore, those who insist that those territories must continue to belong to Georgia are Stalinists: They defend the decision of Josef Vissarionovich Stalin. Yet, whatever has been happening recently and whatever the motives of those involved in the conflict, there is no doubt that all that we are witnessing now is a tragedy. For us, it is a special tragedy, because during the many years that we were living together the Georgian culture – the Georgian people being a nation of ancient culture – became, without a doubt, a part of the multinational culture of Russia. There is even a tinge of civil war in this for us, of course Georgia is an independent state, no doubt about it. We have never infringed on the sovereignty of Georgia and have no intention of doing so in the future. And yet, considering the fact that almost a million, even more than a million Georgians have moved here, we have special spiritual links with that country and its people. For us, this is a special tragedy. And, I assure you, while mourning the Russian soldiers who died, and above all the innocent civilians, many here in Russia are also mourning the Georgians who died. The responsibility for the loss of life rests squarely with the present Georgian leadership, which dared to take these criminal actions. I apologize for the long monologue; I felt it would be of interest. Matthew Chance: It is very interesting that you are talking about Russia’s imperial history in this region because one of the effects of Russian intervention in Georgia is that other countries in the former Soviet Union are now deeply concerned that they could be next, that they could be part of a resurgent Russian empire… particularly countries like Ukraine, that have a big ethnic Russian populations, but also Moldova, the central Asian states and even some of the Baltic states. Can you guarantee to us that Russia will never again use its militarily forces against a neighboring state? Vladimir Putin: I strongly object to the way this question is formulated. It is not for us to guarantee that we will not attack someone. We have not attacked anyone. It is we who are demanding guarantees from others, to make sure that no one attacks us anymore and that no one kills our citizens. We are being portrayed as the aggressor. I have here the chronology of the events that took place on August 7, 8 and 9. On the 7th, at 2:42 p.m., the Georgian officers who were at the headquarters of the joint peacekeeping forces left the headquarters, walked away from the headquarters – – where there were our servicemen, as well as Georgian and Ossetian servicemen – saying that had been ordered to do so by their commanders. They left their place of service and left our servicemen there alone and never returned during the period preceding the beginning of hostilities. An hour later, heavy artillery shelling started. At 10:35 p.m., a massive shelling of the city of Tskhinvali began. At 10:50 p.m., ground force units of the Georgian armed forces started to deploy to the combat zone. And at 11:30 p.m., Mr. Kruashvili, brigadier general and commander of the Georgian peacekeeping forces in the region, announced that Georgia had decided to declare war on South Ossetia. They announced it directly and publicly, looking right into the TV cameras.